Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Hoyt's musings

I kicked back with Jason Kirk, aka the Tennessee Spaceman, and his buddy Allie (sp?) from Memphis last night. Jason is now THE tournament coverage guy for Bluff magazine and got here Monday to cover the main event.

We played some SNGs with some of the fellows who had busted out of the main event as the 590 player field was cut to 200 by day’s end. One of those, Gary Gibbs, finished 10th in the main event of the World Poker Open in Tunica in January. (Allie took 15th in said tournament.) He was eliminated by Gavin Smith in a hand that has been much discussed in the poker world since it was played, a hand in which Gibbs rivered a straight and Smith rivered a flush. Rather than try to explain it here for the uninformed, I’ll send you to this link for a comprehensive examination of the hand:

As Gibbs explained to us Monday night, “Gavin was playing for the takeaway and I knew where he was. He didn’t know where I was, but I didn’t know his suit.”

Not surprising in a SNG that featured two final table finishers from Tunica and several participants in the main event in Reno, I did not cash.

I spent most of Tuesday at the Peppermill, playing in a poker and blackjack tournament (though not at the same time), but saw T.J. Cloutier and Mark Seif playing craps before I left. Jason told me T.J. busted out this morning.

His craps play is legendary. I believe Andy Bloch wrote something on his WPT Fan Web site to the effect that if you haven’t been asked by T.J. for a loan you haven’t really arrived in the poker world.

“T.J., you roll more sevens than anyone alive,” I heard someone say as I passed the craps table on the way to catch the shuttle bus.

I was relaxing in my hotel room this evening when I got a call from Natalie, Hoyt Corkins’ girlfriend. The reception was garbled, but I made out that they were in the poker room. So I threw on my shoes and headed downstairs to find Hoyt without his trademark cowboy hat. Clad in a baseball cap and leather jacket, he was chewing on a cigar while sitting in the ten seat in a $25-$50 blinds no limit game. To his right sat Lee Markholt and in the five seat was Kenna James, getting a deep back massage.

In the first hand I observed, Kenna raised under the gun to $400. The action moved to Hoyt and he tossed in $1,600 in chips. The action returned to Kenna, who thought for a moment.

“How much you got behind you Hoyt?” he asked.

Hoyt picked up his stack of hundreds and did a quick mental count.

“Ten thousand,” he replied.

“I raise,” Kenna said. He counted out thirty Benjamins and dropped them into the pot.

Hoyt thought for a minute and then picked up his stack of hundreds as if to call or raise before tossing his cards into the muck.

“Your kings are good,” he said.

I didn’t want to bother Hoyt in the middle of a game, but he welcomed me to sit beside him and ask some questions. So I took Natalie’s seat as she went to Johnny Rocket’s for a milkshake and began prying.

His initial answers were simple and amusing. What’s the hardest part about life on the circuit? Losing. What’s the best part? Winning. Hoyt laughed as he answered.

He explained further.

“When you’ve got your confidence and you can feel things and you’re in the zone,” he said. “That’s the good part about poker.”

“Making a bluff and catching that magic card.” I thought immediately of the trips he made against Phil Hellmuth at the World Poker Finals a few years ago that had the Poker Brat fuming.

Hoyt used to focus on Omaha, and his only WSOP bracelet was in that game back in the 1980s. Back in his cattle farming days, Hoyt played a lot of Omaha in Tunica and Philadelphia, Miss. He finally decided to play no limit hold’em.

“When I saw the TV coverage of the tournaments kick in I thought I would give it a shot,” he said.

Now NLHE is his focus and he loves it.

“It really is the Cadillac of poker. I has a lot of moves and it changes so much.”

Suddenly our interview was interrupted.

“Are you being interviewed?” a played I didn’t recognize called out from the three seat. “You know we’re going to needle you now.”

“I’m from Alabama too,” I told the guy. “So don’t give him too hard a time.”

I asked Hoyt what’s the hardest part about the travel.

“I couldn’t make it without Natalie,” he said. “She takes care of the planning and the packing. Half the time I don’t know what airline we’re flying on.”

He believes having someone to take care of the travel arrangements gives him a small edge.

“Every small edge helps,” he said. “I just come and play poker.”

Hoyt said he plays about 30 major tournaments a year, a mix that includes perhaps 10 World Poker Tour events, 12 World Series of Poker tournaments and a handful of WSOP Circuit events.

“I try to keep the tournaments down because they are mentally draining,” he said.

His advice to young aspiring pros: “If you’re going to school, stay in school. Forget about it.”

That statement is a testament to how difficult it can be to make it on the poker tournament circuit. Hoyt believes some people are born with the ability to succeed while others are not.

“There’s a lot of people trying, but there’s not too many make it,” he said. “The odds are not good.”

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